The International Community's Test
Michael Young comments on Javier Solana's statements and the leaked minutes of Ban Ki-Moon's meeting with the thugs Assad and Moallem, both of which I had posted earlier.
The minutes were intentionally leaked by the UN, and the timing was no coincidence. An educated guess would suggest the leak took place after the rocket attack against northern Israel in June, and the subsequent killing of the peacekeepers. The point was, evidently, to affirm what Solana did in his statement on Monday: that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon and the region in order to negotiate with the UN and the international community from a position of strength.
The exchange also proved that Assad, though he has denied Syrian involvement in Rafik Hariri's assassination, was very worried about the tribunal. And if there were any doubts about whether the Syrian leader wants to send his forces back in to Lebanon, his reference to Lebanese stability during the years of Syrian rule (even if the country was actually a mess between 1976 and 1990) surely dissipated them. Assad was blunt: If you want stability to return to the country then Syria must return to the country.
Repeated enough times, this kind of language will lose Assad even his most gullible friends in Europe. The cult of "engagement" of Syria is being battered by the fact that most European powers are realizing, to their dismay, that Damascus will not accept any of the quid pro quos that engagement requires. Instead, what they are all hearing, from Brussels to Berlin, is the Syrian language of the gun. Not even the most boneless of European officials could long sustain a discussion with Assad that is based on sundry warnings and intimidation, the practical impact of which is to terminate Lebanon's independence. And that a foreign minister should have exposed himself so recklessly in the presence of a UN delegation by assailing an ambassador in Beirut showed how dangerously belligerent and insular the mood in Damascus is becoming.
The implications of Solana's statements are clear. We are caught in a process of perhaps irresolvable confrontation - with Iran, Syria, and their allies in Hizbullah and Hamas on the one side; and the UN, the United States, Europe, the Arab states, and their allies on the other. Few Europeans relish being in so monolithic a standoff, and they are right. But unless something gives, unless Iran redefines its relationship with the West and the Arabs on the nuclear issue and its policies in the Middle East, stalemate will persist. Then we will see who has stronger knees: an international community that cannot afford to be browbeaten, or a Syria and Iran that must sooner or later prove they can build better than they can destroy.